2012 Changemaker: Fatima Mohamed

Confronting stereotypes on Hijab Day-one scarf at a time

Photo by Cynthia Frost

If you were walking down Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall one warm afternoon last July, you may have been approached by a group of women asking if you would consent to having a multicolored scarf wrapped around your hair, neck and shoulders.

Hijab Day, the brainchild of 19-year-old St. Catherine University student Fatima Mohamed, was an event meant to challenge Western women’s assumptions about what it means to wear the hijab-the head covering worn by many observant Muslim women.

She recruited more than 50 hijab-wearing friends from her north Minneapolis mosque to help her introduce the clothing to others. “A lot of girls were scared prior to the event,” Mohamed said, noting that many felt shy about approaching strangers.

At the end of the day, however, “They were all so passionate about it. … It was really refreshing to see them energized and speaking up to break barriers and stereotypes,” she said.

Those very stereotypes are what inspired Mohamed to enter the Minnesota Idea Open Challenge, which funded the scarf giveaway and selected Mohamed as one of its 2012 winners in a competition that sought unique ways to bridge divides between cultures and faiths.

“Hijab is only one part of Islam, but it is the most visual, so I thought it would be great to start with this and let it be an ice breaker for other questions,” Mohamed said. “I was tired of how the media portrayed Muslims, especially women. I was tired of just being silent.”

The main goal of the event was to spark conversations about Muslim women and answer questions that non-Muslim people might have but are too shy or scared to ask-a goal that Mohamed feels was met. “The best part about it was that it was an actual conversation and not just a one-way thing,” she said.

Mohamed, a Minneapolis resident who was born in Ethiopia and moved to the United States at age 6, has worn the hijab for six years.

“I value and hold tightly to my hijab especially because of the society we live in. Women are exploited right and left,” she said. “From a feminist point of view, how does nudity equal freedom? [Choosing to wear] the hijab gives me a sense of power and control over my own body, and a feeling of modesty, [which] is why I value it.”

She said it was a “joy” to witness the women on Nicollet Mall “stepping into our shoes-even if it was just for a second.”

Though she has no date set for another Hijab Day, she is committed to hosting one again.

“These kinds of things cannot be done enough times,” Mohamed said. “We will always have stereotypes, and we need consistency in order to get voices heard and misconceptions broken.”

Mohamed said she learned a lesson of her own on Hijab Day: “No matter who you are, if you believe in something and work hard, then you can achieve it. [Hijab Day] is just the beginning.”

 Learn more about Muslim culture and the hijab at www.jannah.org/sisters/hijab.html